Newsletter: Essential Politics: The Gavin Newsom era begins as California gets a new governor

Thirty-eight men have held the title of California governor since the state’s admission to the Union — pioneers like Peter Burnett and Leland Stanford, provocateurs like Hiram Johnson, legendary leaders like Earl Warren and Pat Brown.

Just after noon on Monday, the name of Gavin Newsom will be added to the list. He is the one of the youngest to hold the governorship in modern times and only the fourth lieutenant governor to ascend to the top job in almost nine decades.

How history will judge Newsom may depend, in part, on how he navigates the challenges that lie ahead.

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The oath of office, which he will take in a ceremony on the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento at midday, has been a long time coming for the former San Francisco mayor. And there are big — dare we say huge? — expectations that he’s helped set for the next four years.


As Melanie Mason, Taryn Luna and Phil Willon write, the new governor “campaigned in all-caps and boldface, offering lofty promises to tackle healthcare, housing and other obstinate problems facing the state.”

Clearly seeking to set the agenda, and win the early news cycle, Newsom’s transition team released a series of excerpts from the inaugural speech he will deliver in front of Monday’s invitation-only crowd. Yes, Newsom will pledge to revive the “California Dream.” But he will also issue a clear rebuke to President Trump — perhaps a harbinger of things to come from the new governor:

We will prove that people of good faith and firm will can still come together to achieve big things. We will offer an alternative to the corruption and incompetence in the White House. Our government will be progressive, principled, and always on the side of the people.

Newsom’s team also offered early policy glimpses in recent days, confirming a handful of proposals that will be contained in the state budget plan he must send to the Legislature later this week. They include a $1.8-billion boost to early childhood programs, an expansion of current efforts to cut the costs of college and a potentially major boost to paid family leave for new parents.

The new governor and his family made the rounds in the capital city on Sunday — hosting a private and pricey reception for influential donors, inviting families to the state’s railroad museum for some fun with the Newsom kids and then an evening concert raising $5 million for wildfire victims.

He’s also been busy filling out key positions in his administration — including liaisons to labor and business — and he and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, announced they will move their family into the historic governor’s mansion in downtown Sacramento.

The Times will have extensive coverage of Monday’s events, so keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed.


Newsom will become the 40th governor of California, but notice at the outset that I mentioned only 38 men have held the post. One governor gets counted twice — a politician who, like him or not, is unlike any other: Edmund G. Brown Jr.

Jerry Brown’s departure offers a unique chance to not only take a measure of his legacy but also of the history of modern California. Shortly before Christmas, I made my way up Interstate 5 to his family’s Rancho Venada — the sprawling ranch I wrote about a year earlier — for one last in-depth conversation before he left office. One thing was clear: Brown doesn’t sound like a man ready to walk away from politics. Elected office, probably; politics and political causes, unlikely.

You can hear portions of that conversation in the most recent episode of our California Politics Podcast.

(Brown and Newsom, as I wrote on Sunday, have an interesting and intertwined familial backstory.)

Jazmine Ulloa and I recently looked at Brown’s criminal justice legacy, one of his key policy agendas in recent years. I’ve also written in the past about his state budget record, another big part of the past eight years.

And George Skelton, who covered Brown’s first go-round as governor, gave the enigmatic chief executive an “A” for his final two terms and noted that “the unfailing entertainment” of covering Brown will be missed.


There’s movement in the halls of government in Sacramento but political stagnation in Washington. The third week of a federal government shutdown shows no signs of a deal between Trump and the newly empowered Democrats in the House.

The president has begun warning that he might invoke emergency powers to begin construction of a new wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s drawing warnings from Democrats that circumventing Congress would trigger, at the very least, a court challenge.


One thing hard to miss in last week’s swearing-in of new members of Congress was a decided Golden State theme to things. Yes, it’s the home state of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. But it’s also the state that sent a number of new representatives — some who won surprise upsets in November.

“I want to try to actually bring some new perspectives and restore hope for people who think our government’s broken and can’t be fixed,” Rep. Katie Hill (D-Agua Dulce).


-- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the first of the big-name candidates to form a presidential exploratory committee, made an immediate trip to Iowa, scheduling five stops over three days across the farm state.

-- Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo heads out on a swing through at least eight countries in eight days, including Saudi Arabia, hoping to build a coalition among U.S. allies against Iran.

-- A U.S.-backed militia has captured two American militants in the battle with Islamic State in Syria.

-- The new Congress is the most diverse ever, but not when it comes to religion.


-- California Supreme Court Justice Joshua Groban, a lawyer and longtime aide to Brown, was sworn in to the state’s highest court last week in Sacramento.

-- Elected officials accused of harassment or discrimination would be barred from using political contributions to cover their legal defense under legislation proposed by California’s campaign watchdog agency.

-- A new state law allowing public disclosure of internal police shooting investigations has gone into effect after the California Supreme Court rejected an effort by a police union to block it.

-- California youth football supporters who defended their sport against a proposal in 2018 that would have barred tackling have taken a new approach with the Legislature.


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